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By Jan Rocha

The government of Bolivia, a landlocked country in the heart of South America, has been forced to declare a state of emergency as it faces its worst drought in at least 25 years.

View of El Alto from Chacaltaya ski resort, which closed in 2009 due to the disappearance of the glacier on its slopes. The shrinking glaciers and snow-line that provide up to 28% of water for El Alto pose serious challenges to this city of more than one million people.Mari Tortorella

Much of the water supply to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, and the neighboring El Alto, Bolivia's second largest city, comes from the glaciers in the surrounding Andean mountains.

But the glaciers are now shrinking rapidly, illustrating how climate change is already affecting one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Glacier and lake near villages in the Apolobamba region of northern Bolivia.Simon Cook/Manchester Metropolitan University

The three main dams that supply La Paz and El Alto are no longer fed by runoff from glaciers and have almost run dry. Water rationing has been introduced in La Paz, and the poor of El Alto—where many are not yet even connected to the mains water supply—have staged protests.

The armed forces are being brought in to distribute water to the cities, emergency wells are being drilled and schools will have to close two weeks ahead of the summer break

President Evo Morales sacked the head of the water company for not warning him earlier of the dangerous situation, but the changes produced by global warming have been evident for some time.

Shrinking Snowline

A recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) says:

"Temperatures in the region have risen by 0.5°C in the period 1976 to 2006, and the people of La Paz and El Alto can observe evidence of climate change in the form of the shrinking snowline in the mountains above them.

"One glacier on Chacaltaya mountain—which rises above El Alto and which once hosted the world's highest ski resort—has already completely disappeared. And the two Tuni-Condoriri glaciers that provide water for El Alto and La Paz lost 39 percent of their area between 1983 and 2006—at a rate of 0.24 sq km per year."

The now-barren slopes at the world's highest ski resort on Chacaltaya mountain in the Bolivian Andes above La Paz.Ville Miettinen via Wikimedia Commons

The SEI said that if the regional and global climate models that predict a two-degree rise in temperatures by 2050 are right, many small glaciers will completely disappear, while others will shrink dramatically. It warns:

"Glaciers are estimated to provide 20-28 percent of water for El Alto and La Paz. Therefore, glacier loss will have a considerable impact, which will be felt particularly during the dry season, when glacial water provides the majority of urban water.

"The glaciers and mountain water systems also support agriculture, power generation and natural ecosystems throughout the region."

The problem is exacerbated in El Alto, a sprawling settlement of over a million people who have migrated from the countryside.

The city's population grew by at least 30 percent between 2001 and 2012, and the city's land area has rapidly expanded by 144 percent in the last decade, spreading into the flat open countryside to the south and west. By 2050, the population is expected to double to two million people.

The SEI believes that one of the causes of this increased influx into the city will be climate change.

It said:

"Evidence from El Alto's history indicates that the fastest periods of population growth coincided with droughts, floods and bad harvests associated with the meteorological phenomena of El Niño and La Niña.

"The years 1985-1987, when migration into El Alto reached heights of 65,000 new immigrants, were also years of poor harvests."

Supply Outstripped

By 2009, demand for water in El Alto had already outstripped supply, and that supply is now increasingly under threat as climate change melts the glaciers.

Bolivia cannot rely on new sources to resolve its water crisis, given both the costs and potential range of climate change impacts. So one of the country's most critical challenges in coming years will be to plan and implement strategies for managing water under uncertain climate conditions.

Conservation and recycling methods, the SEI said, will be needed to build the resilience of Bolivian cities' water systems to climate change.

The cities will also need to find ways of reducing water consumption, especially from industries and commercial enterprises, but also from the profligacy of a small number of rich domestic consumers.

The SEI paper recommends community participation in developing strategies and decision-making on the management of water resources. But, at the moment, the only role for those affected communities is that of protest.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

By Brenda Ekwurzel

Word has it that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Science program is on the chopping block with the upcoming Trump Administration. Bad decision!

Alaska's Susitna GlacierNASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science

The NASA Earth Science program provides information about the Earth that plays a vital role in our scientific advancement, our national security and the American economy. In addition to a robust science program, NASA Earth Science supports fundamental services that underpin economic activities of farmers, the construction sector and small businesses.

Most people know NASA for its moon shots and participation in the International Space Station; many don't realize that NASA also supports its space mission through its Earth Science program. In order to develop instruments of sufficient "maturity" (reliability in performance and quality of measurements), these instruments need to be tested in airborne measurement campaigns. NASA cleverly combines instrument development with science advancement.

NASA is uniquely positioned to combine lower Earth orbit measurements (like aircraft) and upper Earth measurements (like satellites) to advance our understanding of the Earth processes. NASA operates its own aircraft and can provide the cost-savings leverages available to a large program. In addition, NASA is a major funder of Earth Science through its Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) program, where university researchers are funded to contribute to Earth sciences.

There are so many examples from NASA Earth Science worthy of note. Here is an example of a NASA mission that, if it were ended, would be like a falling domino that topples the rest.

The First Domino: GRACE

Artist's concept of GRACE: GRACE, twin satellites launched in March 2002, are making detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field which will lead to discoveries about gravity and Earth's natural systems. These discoveries could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world's population.NASA / JPL

One of the most beneficial satellite programs that NASA has is the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite. The GRACE mission is a joint partnership between NASA, the Deutsches Zentrum für Luftund Raumfahrt (the German space agency DLR) and other partners. The GRACE mission measures how the Earth's gravity changes over time. Gravity changes point out areas where mass is changing.

The Second Domino: American Infrastructure

An important use of GRACE gravity data is in support of the National Spatial Reference system (NSRS). This is critical for rebuilding or investing in 21st century American infrastructure. The NSRS is a consistent coordinate system that defines latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity and orientation throughout the U.S., underpinning all civil positioning and navigation activities in the U.S.

Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge under construction.Mike O'Callaghan

Surveyors, mapping professionals and others use the NSRS to ensure their positional coordinates are compatible and accurate in the creation of maps and charts; marking property boundaries; and planning, designing, and building roads, bridges, and other structures. All of us who live, work or recreate in any building with indoor plumbing depend on accurate spatial reference systems. GRACE gravity data support the development and evolution of the National Spatial Reference System.

The Third Domino: Communities Confronting Sea Level Rise

GRACE is able to monitor the large ice sheets of the planet and help measure mass loss as these large sheets melt. The shrinking ice sheets provide one of the largest contributions to sea level rise. NASA scientists conducting surveys with airplanes outfitted with geophysical instruments are studying possible surprises from Antarctica with consequences for near-term and long-term sea level rise. Similar studies are occurring over the Greenland Ice sheet. The large ice sheets are the great unknowns regarding sea level rise and must be better understood to manage our rapidly growing coastal risks.

NASA mission to use airplane surveys with instruments to observe changes on Greenland Ice Sheet.

Communities working with architects are already investing in 21st century design to protect coastal communities. Core infrastructure like GRACE or the ice sheet surveys by NASA Earth Science are key information for any community that is less than 6 feet below sea level.

If the world did not fully implement the Paris climate agreement then coastal communities would need to know—as far in advance as possible—when would global sea level rise 3 feet, 4 feet, 6 feet? The interactive map by Ben Strauss for West Palm Beach shows 2 feet and 3 feet, sea level rise would inundate areas of the Mar-a-Lago estate of President-elect Trump in West Palm Beach Florida.

The Forth Domino: Agriculture

The GRACE mission can help assess where major groundwater aquifers are being depleted or recharged over a season. Such knowledge can support agricultural decisions such as in the central valley of California. Food produced from this region finds its way to most American homes. Increasing drought in the nation's fruit and vegetable basket make this information all the more vital.

The Fifth Domino: Stop!

Okay, okay. I will stop. The list goes on and on. Even though dominos falling can be a beautiful sight, let's not let this happen to the core science infrastructure that underpins 21st century activities and our daily lives.

Brenda Ekwurzel is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

When we read about algae blooms, they are often associated with a lake or the ocean, not glaciers. A team of scientists, though, are looking at just that: how algae blooms affect glacier melt.

The Black and Bloom project aims to understand how dark particles and microorganisms living in the melt water on the surface of Greenland's ice sheet are amplifying its melt. These dark spots lower the albedo of the ice sheet and absorb more sun rays than pure ice does. With increased heat comes increased melt; with more melt comes more microorganisms, which then start the circle all over again.

"We want to get a handle on just how much of the darkness is due to microbes and how much to other physical factors," Martyn Tranter, a biogeochemist at the University of Bristol and the project's principal investigator, told Scientific American.

The team of scientists will spend the next six weeks observing the ice sheet. There will be several other expeditions over the next four years to measure and manipulate the ice surface, according to the project's website. Using the data collected during their expeditions, scientists will be able to predict how the ice sheet will change in the future with on-going climate change.

Tranter said the work could also influence water supply predictions in areas such as the Himalayas where algae bloom-infected glaciers are common, Scientific American reported.

Ice melt in Greenland—which is losing an estimated 287 billion tons of ice every year—has already broken records this year, beginning almost two months early. The Danish Meteorological Institute reported 12 percent of the ice sheet was melting as of April 11. Greenland's melt season typically runs from June to September.

Early melting doesn't come as a surprise with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reporting May's average temperatures were 0.93 C above the 1951-1980 average for the month and June was the warmest on record since 1895 in the U.S., with a monthly average temperature of 71.8 F in Lower 48 states, 3.3 F above normal.

The Black and Bloom project will tweet about its progress on Twitter.

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